William Stevenson sits behind a large desk in a modest, windowless office in Merrick. He is surrounded by filing cabinets and paperwork, and the walls are adorned with plaques of recognition. Aside from the goatee and leather jacket, he seems to fit the mold of an accountant. But there are some other deviations.
"You would never believe an accountant from Long Island sitting in an office with no windows could do something like that," said Stevenson, 73, referring to his long career as a nationally recognized tax accountant. He is the spokesman for the National Council for Taxpayer Advocacy, is an enrolled agent — which qualifies him to represent taxpayers before the Internal Revenue Service — and has testified before Congress on taxpayers' rights.
But the statement is also true of his storybook adventures.
Through the illustrated pages of the "Ricky's Dream Trip" books that Stevenson authors, he and grandson Richard Hardin III, who calls his grandfather "Pop Pop," travel through time and space, exploring the solar system, Colonial America and the ancient cities of Egypt, Rome and Greece.
Stevenson, of Bellmore, has self-funded and self-published five books — a sixth is in the works — on the website off the bookshelf.com. They are for sale on the publishing site ($9.95 for print versions, $6 for e-books) and also through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Stevenson said his foray into publishing stems from a grandfather's love of his grandson.
"I have a great satisfaction in giving my grandson a heritage," he said.
First gift to his grandson
In 2008, in his free time, Stevenson began doing research on the solar system, which he turned into a story for his only grandchild, who was 8 when his Pop Pop first put pen to paper. Ricky, who is 11 now, lived in Delaware at the time and has since moved to Ocean City, N.J.
"This was not meant to be a published book," Stevenson said, pulling out a thick, three-ring binder filled with the pages of the story he intended to be just for Ricky's eyes. The story was about a journey through the solar system accompanied by photos Stevenson printed off the NASA website.
In reality, Stevenson creates the story lines. But in the land of Ricky and Pop Pop, Ricky dreams up adventures for him and his grandfather to embark on in the book series.
As Stevenson finished the first story, he met with Scott Weisenthal, a longtime client at Stevenson's accounting firm, National Tax Consultants Inc., whom he was helping establish a self-publishing company.
As he and Weisenthal talked, Stevenson had an idea. He reached for the three-ring binder and asked Weisenthal what he thought. He loved it, Stevenson said, and encouraged him to publish it on the offthebookshelf site.
The next step for Stevenson was finding an illustrator to bring the book to life. He chose Paul Fireman, owner of Pittsburgh-based marketing agency Fireman Creative, which typically works with large, national publishing companies but has in recent years taken on smaller, independent clients.
Fireman fell in love with the concept immediately.
"I was so intrigued with the whole concept of a grandfather writing these historically and scientifically accurate books for [his] grandchild," he said. "I've never seen anybody doing anything like that; I thought it was a big winner."
Stevenson's third book, "Ricky's Dream Trip to Ancient Egypt," recently won the grandparents.about.com 2013 Readers' Choice Award for children's books featuring grandparents. It took him a year to research the material.
"I studied more for that than I did for my doctorate," Stevenson said. "These books are all based on a whole lot of research."
The process for each book has been different, he said, though he noted that ideas are often sparked by what he reads in his free time. Stevenson said the hardest part is choosing a specific day in time to visit and the coinciding plot. After that, the writing — done with pen and paper at his kitchen table on weekends — comes easily. Fireman Creative also provides some light editing to the finished product.
Fireman said he finds Stevenson inspiring professionally and on a personal level.
"I want my kids to be connected to their grandparents the way that Bill is with his grandson," he said. "It's such a neat idea."
Bonding through books
Ricky said he and his mother read every book together as soon as they are published. His favorite book is one set in ancient Greece, because the plot — and the illustration, which includes Ricky's shaggy, sandy hair — has him riding a horse and saving the day.
"I try to build up Ricky's self-concept throughout the whole thing," Stevenson said. "He's the hero."
Through their fictional trips, Ricky said he and his grandfather have strengthened their real-life bond.
His mother, Andrea Stevenson-Hardin, 45, said the fact that the books are so personal — in every one, Stevenson's character wears a sweater he really owns — make them a special treasure for her family.
"It's very touching, and I'm very proud of my father for finding this part of his life," she said. "We cherish every book that he puts out."
Stevenson said each book cost him about $9,000 to publish but he is unsure about adding to the series if he doesn't find a larger publishing company interested in funding the books. Regardless, he said he has felt great pride and taken great satisfaction at what he has accomplished and what it means to Ricky.
"When he gets older, he can read this to his children," he said. "He can say, 'My grandfather really loves me; here it is in print.' "